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Landforms Associated With the Aspect-Controlled Exhumation of Crater-Filling Alluvial Strata on Mars

Fluvial channel belts, the deposits accumulated in rivers surrounded by floodplain deposits, are sensitive environmental recorders. Across Mars, wind has exposed ancient channel belts via the preferential erosion of floodplain strata, creating landforms called fluvial ridges. However, river deposits observed by the Mars rover Curiosity are instead exposed along a series of steep slopes and shallow benches, and short, truncated ridges we call noses. Here, we tested the hypothesis that these exposures record channel-belt exhumation with a preferential direction of scarp retreat (a slope-aspect control), in contrast with models of fluvial-ridge formation. Using a landscape evolution model sensitive to lithology and an Earth-analog 3D-seismic-reflectance volume imaging fluvial stratigraphy, we generated synthetic erosional landscapes where channel-belt exhumation created benches and noses rather than fluvial ridges, depending on the orientation of belts relative to the preferential direction of scarp retreat, which we suggest is set by winds steered along crater topography.

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1. Introduction
Ancient sedimentary basins exist across Mars both within and between craters (Dickson et al., 2020; Malin &
Edgett, 2000, 2001). Basin-filling stratigraphy in craters is an important record of deep-time martian history,
and often preserves information from aqueous environments, including rivers and lakes (Goudge et al., 2015;
Grotzinger et al., 2015; Mangold et al., 2021; Squyres et al., 2004). Basin stratigraphy outside craters often
provides evidence for aqueous environments at even larger scales (Dickson et al., 2020). A key piece of evidence
that Mars was once warmer and wetter are landforms called fluvial ridges that are observed across the planet
(Burr et al., 2009; Dickson et al., 2020). Differential eolian erosion of ancient alluvial stratigraphy produces
fluvial ridges, whereby resistant channel sand bodies are topographic highs relative to recessive muddy flood-
plain deposits (DiBiase et al., 2013; Hayden et al., 2019; Zaki et al., 2021). Ridge formation has been modeled
from this process using lithology-based erosion rates and diffusivities (Cardenas et al., 2022b).
Some ridges formed from channel-belt exhumation on Mars extend for 100 s of km, making them detectable in
satellite images (Davis et al., 2016; Williams et al., 2013b). However, the lack of fluvial ridges does not indicate
the lack of alluvial stratigraphy. Alluvial strata have been identified at Gale crater using data from the Curios-
ity rover at outcrops not associated with any obvious fluvial ridges (Caravaca et al., 2022; Edgar et al., 2017;
Fedo et al., 2022; Williams et al., 2013a). It has, however, been suggested that alluvial stratigraphy may still
create unique erosional topography due to its dual-lithology architecture containing coarse-grain channel fill
and fine-grain overbank deposits (Cardenas et al., 2022a; Williams et al., 2018). Two outcrops of the Carolyn
Shoemaker formation at Gale crater visited by the rover between mission sols (Mars days) ∼2,900 and 3,100 were
interpreted as alluvial bar and floodplain deposits (Cardenas et al., 2022a). These outcrops had unique erosional
morphologies. At the Glasgow member, outcrops form what we call benches, or bench-and-slope topography—
Abstract Fluvial channel belts, the deposits accumulated in rivers surrounded by floodplain deposits, are
sensitive environmental recorders. Across Mars, wind has exposed ancient channel belts via the preferential
erosion of floodplain strata, creating landforms called fluvial ridges. However, river deposits observed by
the Mars rover Curiosity are instead exposed along a series of steep slopes and shallow benches, and short,
truncated ridges we call noses. Here, we tested the hypothesis that these exposures record channel-belt
exhumation with a preferential direction of scarp retreat (a slope-aspect control), in contrast with models
of fluvial-ridge formation. Using a landscape evolution model sensitive to lithology and an Earth-analog
3D-seismic-reflectance volume imaging fluvial stratigraphy, we generated synthetic erosional landscapes where
channel-belt exhumation created benches and noses rather than fluvial ridges, depending on the orientation of
belts relative to the preferential direction of scarp retreat, which we suggest is set by winds steered along crater
topography.
Plain Language Summary Ancient river deposits exist across Mars and can be identified in
satellite data by erosional landforms called fluvial ridges. Fluvial ridges take the shape of ancient river deposits,
and are useful for understanding the history of water on Mars. However, the Curiosity rover at Gale crater,
Mars, has observed river deposits that are not associated with fluvial ridges, but rather bench- and nose-like
landforms that are not generally associated with ancient river deposits. We modified a computer model that
generates fluvial ridges from ancient river deposits by adding a preferred direction for scarp retreat, which may
exist in craters on Mars because crater topography steers winds, and winds currently drive erosion on Mars. Our
model generated benches and noses rather than fluvial ridges, demonstrating that these landforms may be used
as indicators of ancient river deposits in craters on Mars, similar to fluvial ridges.
CARDENAS AND STACEY
© 2023. The Authors.
This is an open access article under
the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits use,
distribution and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is
properly cited.
Landforms Associated With the Aspect-Controlled
Exhumation of Crater-Filling Alluvial Strata on Mars
Benjamin T. Cardenas1
and Kaitlyn Stacey1
1
Department of Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
Key Points:
• 
River stratigraphy at Gale crater,
Mars, is exposed along landforms
distinct from the fluvial ridges
commonly observed outside craters
• 
An erosion model with a preferential
scarp-retreat direction forms
topographic benches and noses from
river stratigraphy, rather than fluvial
ridges
• 
Alluvial strata in other craters on
Mars may be exposed along noses and
benches
Supporting Information:
Supporting Information may be found in
the online version of this article.
Correspondence to:
B. T. Cardenas,
btcardenas@psu.edu
Citation:
Cardenas, B. T.,  Stacey, K.
(2023). Landforms associated with
the aspect-controlled exhumation
of crater-filling alluvial strata on
Mars. Geophysical Research Letters,
50, e2023GL103618. https://doi.
org/10.1029/2023GL103618
Received 21 MAR 2023
Accepted 28 JUL 2023
10.1029/2023GL103618
RESEARCH LETTER
1 of 11
Geophysical Research Letters
CARDENAS AND STACEY
10.1029/2023GL103618
2 of 11
sets of steep slopes with sediment cover (17 ± 6°) that transition to shallower benchtops (5 ± 3°; Cardenas
et al., 2022a). These benches extend for 10–100 s of m at the Glasgow member (Figure 1). At the Mercou member
outcrops, the rock is exposed along two features akin to truncated fluvial ridges, which we call noses (Figure 1).
These noses have near-vertical front cliffs and are flanked by slopes with similar dips to bench slopes (∼10–20°;
Cardenas et al., 2022a).
We suspect that the formation of bench-and-slope and nose topography from the erosion of fluvial strata, rather
than fluvial ridges, might be unique to crater-filling strata. Winds in craters with actively eroding fills have been
found to be unidirectional at locations, steered by crater topography (Day et al., 2016), though with seasonal-
ity (Cornwall et al., 2018). If unimodal winds are associated with a preferred direction of scarp retreat, and if
eolian erosion rates are also sensitive to lithology as has been shown on Earth and Mars (Pain et al., 2007; Pain
 Oilier, 1995; Williams et al., 2007), we hypothesize this may generate landforms distinct from fluvial ridges
Figure 1. Bench-and-slope and nose morphologies of the Carolyn Shoemaker formation. Panels (a and b) are from HiRISE image PSP_009149_1750. Elevation
contours are shown at 5 m intervals in white. (a) Red circle and arrows show the rover location and the extent of the mosaic in panel (c). (b) Mercou member. Red
circle and arrows show the rover location and the extent of the mosaic in panel (d). (c) Glasgow member. Bench-and-slope morphology from the ground. Mosaic from
Curiosity rover Mastcam sequence 15302, mission sol 2933. (d) Nose morphology from the ground at the Mont Mercou outcrop. Mosaic from Curiosity rover Mastcam
sequence 15933, mission sol 3051. (Mastcam image credit: NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS).
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during the erosion of alluvial stratigraphy. Indeed, lithology and slope-aspect are recognized as factors that can
influence landscape evolution on Earth (e.g., Istanbulluoglu et al., 2008; Pelletier et al., 2018), but have not been
explored in the context of exhumed alluvial stratigraphy on Mars.
2. Methods
To test the hypothesis that a preferred direction of scarp retreat creates noses and benches instead of fluvial
ridges, we used a landscape evolution model with a preferred direction of scarp retreat, and applied this model to
earth-analog fluvial stratigraphy imaged in a 3D seismic reflectance volume imaging floodplain and channel-belt
deposits beneath the Gulf of Mexico seafloor (Cardenas et al., 2023). This volume was selected because it images
channel belts at multiple stratigraphic levels stacked in complicated patterns, similar to fully exposed fluvial
stratigraphy across Mars (e.g., DiBiase et al., 2013) and Earth (Hartley et al., 2015), and thus representative of
fluvial stratigraphy in general. We modified an existing landscape-evolution model (Cardenas et al., 2022b) built
using Landlab (Barnhart et al., 2020; Hobley et al., 2017). The original model generated fluvial ridges from
alluvial stratigraphy imaged in a 3D seismic reflectance volume by setting local erosion rates and diffusivities
to be a function of a lithology proxy taken from the seismic volume. Here, our modification added slope aspect,
the azimuth direction of steepest descent, as a control on local erosion rates. We defined an aspect of maximum
erosion, θm. Cells with aspects not oriented toward θm had their erosion rates decreased based on their arc distance
from θm.
The 3D seismic volume used as the original stratigraphy in the erosional model is a section of volume B-11-92-LA
and is available for free at the United States Geological Survey-managed National Archive of Marine Seismic
Surveys website (https://walrus.wr.usgs.gox/NAMSS/). Depth in this volume is given in terms of milliseconds
of two-way-travel time. We assumed 1 millisecond of two-way-travel time equaled 1 m of thickness (Armstrong
et al., 2014; Straub et al., 2009). As input, we used a seismic attribute called sweetness normalized by its maxi-
mum value, which we called Ω. This value represents the relative proportion of sandstone to mudstone at a
location, and is useful for identifying the sandstone-rich channel belts surrounded by mudstone-rich floodplains
in seismic volumes (Hart, 2008). In this volume, channel belts are oriented north-south and east-west, with local
variability (Figure 2). Using techniques to measure local channel-belt orientations (Cardenas  Lamb, 2022), we
found a mean orientation toward 192°, with a standard deviation of 57° (n = 2,923 points evenly spaced along
26 belt segments). We ran three experiments designed to place aspects of maximum erosion equal to, oblique to,
and normal to the mean belt orientation. In experiments 1–3, θm was set to 192°, 237°, and 282°, respectively.
2.1. Model Derivation
Erosion rates in the landscape evolution model are defined by two terms applied to an initially smooth, horizontal
surface with closed boundaries:
−
𝑑𝑑𝑑𝑑
𝑑𝑑𝑑𝑑
= 𝐸𝐸𝑎𝑎 + 𝐸𝐸𝑑𝑑
(1)
In Equation 1, z is elevation, t is time, Ea is a landscape-lowering rate which we take to represent erosion driven
by eolian sand abrasion, and Ed is the landscape change driven by topographic diffusion. Ed preserves mass, but
Ea only removes material. The net erosion of Ea is reasonable because sediment transport is active on Mars, and
thus locations like Gale crater have widespread outcrops not covered in loose sediment. The spatially variable
sandstone-to-mudstone ratio (Ω) throughout the volume was set by the locations of fluvial channel belts and
produced an erosional landscape with relief when Equation 1 was applied to the stratigraphic volume. The term Ea
assumes that a higher sandstone content implies a lower erosion rate (Hayden et al., 2019; Sklar  Dietrich, 2001;
Williams et al., 2007). Here, we added an additional term, α, that decreases this erosion rate depending on local
aspect (slope azimuth direction).
𝐸𝐸𝑎𝑎 =
𝐾𝐾1
Ω𝑚𝑚
𝛼𝛼
(2)
Here, α is a function of θ and the exponent p. Constants K1 and m were set to 1 L/T and 2, respectively. We
set m = 2 because erosion rate scales inversely squared with tensile strength for abrasion processes driven by
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repetitive impacts (Sklar  Dietrich, 2001), under the assumption that tensile strength is proportional to Ω
(Cardenas et al., 2022b).
𝛼𝛼 = (1 − 𝜃𝜃)𝑝𝑝
(3)
The term θ is the angular distance between the aspect of maximum erosion, θm, and the local aspect, θl, in degrees.
We set p = 5 to enhance the erosion-rate decrease away from θm, but a true representative value is unknown.
Figure 2. Seismic volume and orientation of channel belts. (a) Six horizontal slices of increasing depth in the seismic
volume. Yellow is sandstone rich, black is mudstone rich. (b) Rose diagram showing the distribution of local channel-belt
orientations in the downstream direction, as well as the preferred scarp-retreat directions for each of the three experiments
(toward the mean, and 45° and 90° clockwise from the mean.
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𝜃𝜃 =
|𝜃𝜃𝑚𝑚 − 𝜃𝜃𝑙𝑙|
180
(4)
Here, |θm−θl| ≤ 180. When local aspect is approaching the aspect of maximum erosion, θl → θm, θ → 0 (Equa-
tion 4), α → 1 (Equation 3), and
𝐴𝐴 𝐴𝐴𝑎𝑎 →
𝐾𝐾1
Ω𝑚𝑚
(Equation 2). When local aspect is approaching a maximum 180° away
from the aspect of maximum erosion, θm ≫ θl, θ→1 (Equation 4), α → 0 (Equation 3), and Ea → 0 (Equation 2).
This establishes a preferential direction for scarp retreat in the direction opposite θm, which we call ¬θm.
The second process was topographic diffusion representing hillslope creep, freeze-thaw cycles, and microim-
pacts, with diffusivity set by the sandstone-to-mudstone ratio such that mudstones form hillslopes and sandstones
form steeper cliffs. We did not set an aspect control on diffusion.
𝐸𝐸𝑑𝑑 = −𝐾𝐾2∇2
𝑧𝑧
(5)
Here, K2 was diffusivity (L2
/T), and ∇2
z was local topographic curvature (1/L). The diffusivity, K2, varied with Ω.
𝐾𝐾2 =
𝐾𝐾3
Ω𝑛𝑛
(6)
The constant n was set to 1. For the experiment that produced the results shown in Figure 3, we set K1 = 1 (L/T;
Equation 2) and K3 = 0.5 (L2
/T; Equation 6). We tested the sensitivity of model results to variations in K1 and K3
(Figure S1 in Supporting Information S1), but here focus discussion on the values above because they produced
the most familiar landforms and thus, we assume, best represent processes at Gale crater. We emphasize that
absolute erosion rates are unknown and the results we present are only sensitive to the relative erosion rates set
by
𝐴𝐴
𝐾𝐾1
𝐾𝐾3
. For this reason, we present model runtimes in model steps rather than years.
3. Results
Here, we present a landscape from each experiment near the 2000th model step (Figure 3). These steps were
selected because the landscapes expose channel belts from different stratigraphic levels, and the topographic
surface minimally intersects the bottom of the domain. None of the landscapes feature recognizable fluvial
ridges, though fluvial ridges were generated in experiments featuring high
𝐴𝐴
𝐾𝐾1
𝐾𝐾3
presented in Figure S1 in Support-
ing Information S1, which we will not discuss further. To identify benches and noses, we used slope maps set to
highlight slopes of at least 11° (Figures 3d–3f), similar to the minimum slopes observed on Mars (Figure 1). We
also used changes in contour spacing to identify shallower bench and nose edges.
Each experiment produced recognizable benches and noses, as hypothesized (Figure 3). The locations where these
landforms developed was sensitive to local channel-belt curvature and the aspect of maximum erosion, θm. No
experiment particularly favored the development of either benches or noses. Channel-belt reaches were oriented
relative to θm such that both landforms were produced in each experiment. Benches formed where channel-belt
segments were oriented close to perpendicular to θm, but benches also curved away from this orientation, reflect-
ing belt geometry (Figure 3). Segments oriented into θm were associated with noses, which are reminiscent of
fluvial ridges with eroded tips (Figure 3). There were no examples of noses oriented toward ¬θm, though some
noses transition into benches, again reflecting channel-belt curvature, or the curvature of stacked channel belts as
is the case in the example shown in experiment 3 (Figure 3c). Several nose flanks had an asymmetrical drop in
topography on either margin, with only one flank meeting the 11° threshold (Figures 3d and 3e). Experiment 3
has a well-formed nose with both flanks meeting this cutoff (Figure 3f).
The relief associated with benches and noses is a function of their location relative to other sandstones and
θm. The largest benches in these experiments are not necessarily formed from the highest-Ω exposures (e.g.,
Figure 3). Instead, the largest benches are generated at the first major Ω peak (Ω ≥ 0.3) in the direction of ¬θm for
several km. For example, the largest Ω peak in experiment 1 transect A-A′ (Ω = 0.6; Figures 3g and 3h) forms a
m-scale bench superimposed on a larger bench formed ∼2 km toward θm from a smaller Ω (Ω = 0.5). Essentially,
the first Ω peak in a series of Ω peaks forms a protective shadow that decreases the total erosion for km behind
the first bench. This can also be seen in Figures 3a–3c, where many exposed sandstones are not associated with
significant topography visible in the 5 m contours. This sheltering is the product of slopes oriented toward ¬θm
being modified primarily by diffusive processes (Equation 1), and is the primary factor distinguishing this model
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Figure 3. Hillshade maps of synthetic landscapes with 5- and 20-m contours. θm values are shown. Hillshade illumination is from the east. Colorized topography is
draped on the hillshade, and overlain with red and yellow values showing Ω. A bench and nose are pointed to in each experiment. Light blue arrows point to high- Ω
locations not associated with steep topography. (a) Experiment 1, model step 1964. (b) Experiment 2, model step 1996. (c) Experiment 3, model step 2001. A transition
between a bench and a nose is marked. (d) Slope map of panel a showing slopes ≥11°, near the minimum slope defining bench and nose margin slopes on Mars.
Benches show up well, but the labeled nose has only its eastern flank shown. (e) Slope map of panel (b). Similarly, benches are well represented, but only the southern
flank of the nose is steep enough to be shown. (f) Slope map of panel (c). Here, the bench, bench-nose transition, and both nose flanks show up well. Both nose flanks
are very closely oriented toward θm. (g) Topography (black line) and Ω (red line) along the profile A-A′ in panel (a). Large arrows point to benches and noses with 10 s
of m of relief. Small arrows point to benches and noses with m of relief. (h) Topography (black line) and Ω (red line) along the profile B-B′ in panel (a).
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  • 1. 1. Introduction Ancient sedimentary basins exist across Mars both within and between craters (Dickson et al., 2020; Malin & Edgett, 2000, 2001). Basin-filling stratigraphy in craters is an important record of deep-time martian history, and often preserves information from aqueous environments, including rivers and lakes (Goudge et al., 2015; Grotzinger et al., 2015; Mangold et al., 2021; Squyres et al., 2004). Basin stratigraphy outside craters often provides evidence for aqueous environments at even larger scales (Dickson et al., 2020). A key piece of evidence that Mars was once warmer and wetter are landforms called fluvial ridges that are observed across the planet (Burr et al., 2009; Dickson et al., 2020). Differential eolian erosion of ancient alluvial stratigraphy produces fluvial ridges, whereby resistant channel sand bodies are topographic highs relative to recessive muddy flood- plain deposits (DiBiase et al., 2013; Hayden et al., 2019; Zaki et al., 2021). Ridge formation has been modeled from this process using lithology-based erosion rates and diffusivities (Cardenas et al., 2022b). Some ridges formed from channel-belt exhumation on Mars extend for 100 s of km, making them detectable in satellite images (Davis et al., 2016; Williams et al., 2013b). However, the lack of fluvial ridges does not indicate the lack of alluvial stratigraphy. Alluvial strata have been identified at Gale crater using data from the Curios- ity rover at outcrops not associated with any obvious fluvial ridges (Caravaca et al., 2022; Edgar et al., 2017; Fedo et al., 2022; Williams et al., 2013a). It has, however, been suggested that alluvial stratigraphy may still create unique erosional topography due to its dual-lithology architecture containing coarse-grain channel fill and fine-grain overbank deposits (Cardenas et al., 2022a; Williams et al., 2018). Two outcrops of the Carolyn Shoemaker formation at Gale crater visited by the rover between mission sols (Mars days) ∼2,900 and 3,100 were interpreted as alluvial bar and floodplain deposits (Cardenas et al., 2022a). These outcrops had unique erosional morphologies. At the Glasgow member, outcrops form what we call benches, or bench-and-slope topography— Abstract Fluvial channel belts, the deposits accumulated in rivers surrounded by floodplain deposits, are sensitive environmental recorders. Across Mars, wind has exposed ancient channel belts via the preferential erosion of floodplain strata, creating landforms called fluvial ridges. However, river deposits observed by the Mars rover Curiosity are instead exposed along a series of steep slopes and shallow benches, and short, truncated ridges we call noses. Here, we tested the hypothesis that these exposures record channel-belt exhumation with a preferential direction of scarp retreat (a slope-aspect control), in contrast with models of fluvial-ridge formation. Using a landscape evolution model sensitive to lithology and an Earth-analog 3D-seismic-reflectance volume imaging fluvial stratigraphy, we generated synthetic erosional landscapes where channel-belt exhumation created benches and noses rather than fluvial ridges, depending on the orientation of belts relative to the preferential direction of scarp retreat, which we suggest is set by winds steered along crater topography. Plain Language Summary Ancient river deposits exist across Mars and can be identified in satellite data by erosional landforms called fluvial ridges. Fluvial ridges take the shape of ancient river deposits, and are useful for understanding the history of water on Mars. However, the Curiosity rover at Gale crater, Mars, has observed river deposits that are not associated with fluvial ridges, but rather bench- and nose-like landforms that are not generally associated with ancient river deposits. We modified a computer model that generates fluvial ridges from ancient river deposits by adding a preferred direction for scarp retreat, which may exist in craters on Mars because crater topography steers winds, and winds currently drive erosion on Mars. Our model generated benches and noses rather than fluvial ridges, demonstrating that these landforms may be used as indicators of ancient river deposits in craters on Mars, similar to fluvial ridges. CARDENAS AND STACEY © 2023. The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Landforms Associated With the Aspect-Controlled Exhumation of Crater-Filling Alluvial Strata on Mars Benjamin T. Cardenas1 and Kaitlyn Stacey1 1 Department of Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA Key Points: • River stratigraphy at Gale crater, Mars, is exposed along landforms distinct from the fluvial ridges commonly observed outside craters • An erosion model with a preferential scarp-retreat direction forms topographic benches and noses from river stratigraphy, rather than fluvial ridges • Alluvial strata in other craters on Mars may be exposed along noses and benches Supporting Information: Supporting Information may be found in the online version of this article. Correspondence to: B. T. Cardenas, btcardenas@psu.edu Citation: Cardenas, B. T., Stacey, K. (2023). Landforms associated with the aspect-controlled exhumation of crater-filling alluvial strata on Mars. Geophysical Research Letters, 50, e2023GL103618. https://doi. org/10.1029/2023GL103618 Received 21 MAR 2023 Accepted 28 JUL 2023 10.1029/2023GL103618 RESEARCH LETTER 1 of 11
  • 2. Geophysical Research Letters CARDENAS AND STACEY 10.1029/2023GL103618 2 of 11 sets of steep slopes with sediment cover (17 ± 6°) that transition to shallower benchtops (5 ± 3°; Cardenas et al., 2022a). These benches extend for 10–100 s of m at the Glasgow member (Figure 1). At the Mercou member outcrops, the rock is exposed along two features akin to truncated fluvial ridges, which we call noses (Figure 1). These noses have near-vertical front cliffs and are flanked by slopes with similar dips to bench slopes (∼10–20°; Cardenas et al., 2022a). We suspect that the formation of bench-and-slope and nose topography from the erosion of fluvial strata, rather than fluvial ridges, might be unique to crater-filling strata. Winds in craters with actively eroding fills have been found to be unidirectional at locations, steered by crater topography (Day et al., 2016), though with seasonal- ity (Cornwall et al., 2018). If unimodal winds are associated with a preferred direction of scarp retreat, and if eolian erosion rates are also sensitive to lithology as has been shown on Earth and Mars (Pain et al., 2007; Pain Oilier, 1995; Williams et al., 2007), we hypothesize this may generate landforms distinct from fluvial ridges Figure 1. Bench-and-slope and nose morphologies of the Carolyn Shoemaker formation. Panels (a and b) are from HiRISE image PSP_009149_1750. Elevation contours are shown at 5 m intervals in white. (a) Red circle and arrows show the rover location and the extent of the mosaic in panel (c). (b) Mercou member. Red circle and arrows show the rover location and the extent of the mosaic in panel (d). (c) Glasgow member. Bench-and-slope morphology from the ground. Mosaic from Curiosity rover Mastcam sequence 15302, mission sol 2933. (d) Nose morphology from the ground at the Mont Mercou outcrop. Mosaic from Curiosity rover Mastcam sequence 15933, mission sol 3051. (Mastcam image credit: NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS). 19448007, 2023, 15, Downloaded from https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2023GL103618 by CAPES, Wiley Online Library on [29/10/2023]. See the Terms and Conditions (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/terms-and-conditions) on Wiley Online Library for rules of use; OA articles are governed by the applicable Creative Commons License
  • 3. Geophysical Research Letters CARDENAS AND STACEY 10.1029/2023GL103618 3 of 11 during the erosion of alluvial stratigraphy. Indeed, lithology and slope-aspect are recognized as factors that can influence landscape evolution on Earth (e.g., Istanbulluoglu et al., 2008; Pelletier et al., 2018), but have not been explored in the context of exhumed alluvial stratigraphy on Mars. 2. Methods To test the hypothesis that a preferred direction of scarp retreat creates noses and benches instead of fluvial ridges, we used a landscape evolution model with a preferred direction of scarp retreat, and applied this model to earth-analog fluvial stratigraphy imaged in a 3D seismic reflectance volume imaging floodplain and channel-belt deposits beneath the Gulf of Mexico seafloor (Cardenas et al., 2023). This volume was selected because it images channel belts at multiple stratigraphic levels stacked in complicated patterns, similar to fully exposed fluvial stratigraphy across Mars (e.g., DiBiase et al., 2013) and Earth (Hartley et al., 2015), and thus representative of fluvial stratigraphy in general. We modified an existing landscape-evolution model (Cardenas et al., 2022b) built using Landlab (Barnhart et al., 2020; Hobley et al., 2017). The original model generated fluvial ridges from alluvial stratigraphy imaged in a 3D seismic reflectance volume by setting local erosion rates and diffusivities to be a function of a lithology proxy taken from the seismic volume. Here, our modification added slope aspect, the azimuth direction of steepest descent, as a control on local erosion rates. We defined an aspect of maximum erosion, θm. Cells with aspects not oriented toward θm had their erosion rates decreased based on their arc distance from θm. The 3D seismic volume used as the original stratigraphy in the erosional model is a section of volume B-11-92-LA and is available for free at the United States Geological Survey-managed National Archive of Marine Seismic Surveys website (https://walrus.wr.usgs.gox/NAMSS/). Depth in this volume is given in terms of milliseconds of two-way-travel time. We assumed 1 millisecond of two-way-travel time equaled 1 m of thickness (Armstrong et al., 2014; Straub et al., 2009). As input, we used a seismic attribute called sweetness normalized by its maxi- mum value, which we called Ω. This value represents the relative proportion of sandstone to mudstone at a location, and is useful for identifying the sandstone-rich channel belts surrounded by mudstone-rich floodplains in seismic volumes (Hart, 2008). In this volume, channel belts are oriented north-south and east-west, with local variability (Figure 2). Using techniques to measure local channel-belt orientations (Cardenas Lamb, 2022), we found a mean orientation toward 192°, with a standard deviation of 57° (n = 2,923 points evenly spaced along 26 belt segments). We ran three experiments designed to place aspects of maximum erosion equal to, oblique to, and normal to the mean belt orientation. In experiments 1–3, θm was set to 192°, 237°, and 282°, respectively. 2.1. Model Derivation Erosion rates in the landscape evolution model are defined by two terms applied to an initially smooth, horizontal surface with closed boundaries: − 𝑑𝑑𝑑𝑑 𝑑𝑑𝑑𝑑 = 𝐸𝐸𝑎𝑎 + 𝐸𝐸𝑑𝑑 (1) In Equation 1, z is elevation, t is time, Ea is a landscape-lowering rate which we take to represent erosion driven by eolian sand abrasion, and Ed is the landscape change driven by topographic diffusion. Ed preserves mass, but Ea only removes material. The net erosion of Ea is reasonable because sediment transport is active on Mars, and thus locations like Gale crater have widespread outcrops not covered in loose sediment. The spatially variable sandstone-to-mudstone ratio (Ω) throughout the volume was set by the locations of fluvial channel belts and produced an erosional landscape with relief when Equation 1 was applied to the stratigraphic volume. The term Ea assumes that a higher sandstone content implies a lower erosion rate (Hayden et al., 2019; Sklar Dietrich, 2001; Williams et al., 2007). Here, we added an additional term, α, that decreases this erosion rate depending on local aspect (slope azimuth direction). 𝐸𝐸𝑎𝑎 = 𝐾𝐾1 Ω𝑚𝑚 𝛼𝛼 (2) Here, α is a function of θ and the exponent p. Constants K1 and m were set to 1 L/T and 2, respectively. We set m = 2 because erosion rate scales inversely squared with tensile strength for abrasion processes driven by 19448007, 2023, 15, Downloaded from https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2023GL103618 by CAPES, Wiley Online Library on [29/10/2023]. See the Terms and Conditions (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/terms-and-conditions) on Wiley Online Library for rules of use; OA articles are governed by the applicable Creative Commons License
  • 4. Geophysical Research Letters CARDENAS AND STACEY 10.1029/2023GL103618 4 of 11 repetitive impacts (Sklar Dietrich, 2001), under the assumption that tensile strength is proportional to Ω (Cardenas et al., 2022b). 𝛼𝛼 = (1 − 𝜃𝜃)𝑝𝑝 (3) The term θ is the angular distance between the aspect of maximum erosion, θm, and the local aspect, θl, in degrees. We set p = 5 to enhance the erosion-rate decrease away from θm, but a true representative value is unknown. Figure 2. Seismic volume and orientation of channel belts. (a) Six horizontal slices of increasing depth in the seismic volume. Yellow is sandstone rich, black is mudstone rich. (b) Rose diagram showing the distribution of local channel-belt orientations in the downstream direction, as well as the preferred scarp-retreat directions for each of the three experiments (toward the mean, and 45° and 90° clockwise from the mean. 19448007, 2023, 15, Downloaded from https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2023GL103618 by CAPES, Wiley Online Library on [29/10/2023]. See the Terms and Conditions (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/terms-and-conditions) on Wiley Online Library for rules of use; OA articles are governed by the applicable Creative Commons License
  • 5. Geophysical Research Letters CARDENAS AND STACEY 10.1029/2023GL103618 5 of 11 𝜃𝜃 = |𝜃𝜃𝑚𝑚 − 𝜃𝜃𝑙𝑙| 180 (4) Here, |θm−θl| ≤ 180. When local aspect is approaching the aspect of maximum erosion, θl → θm, θ → 0 (Equa- tion 4), α → 1 (Equation 3), and 𝐴𝐴 𝐴𝐴𝑎𝑎 → 𝐾𝐾1 Ω𝑚𝑚 (Equation 2). When local aspect is approaching a maximum 180° away from the aspect of maximum erosion, θm ≫ θl, θ→1 (Equation 4), α → 0 (Equation 3), and Ea → 0 (Equation 2). This establishes a preferential direction for scarp retreat in the direction opposite θm, which we call ¬θm. The second process was topographic diffusion representing hillslope creep, freeze-thaw cycles, and microim- pacts, with diffusivity set by the sandstone-to-mudstone ratio such that mudstones form hillslopes and sandstones form steeper cliffs. We did not set an aspect control on diffusion. 𝐸𝐸𝑑𝑑 = −𝐾𝐾2∇2 𝑧𝑧 (5) Here, K2 was diffusivity (L2 /T), and ∇2 z was local topographic curvature (1/L). The diffusivity, K2, varied with Ω. 𝐾𝐾2 = 𝐾𝐾3 Ω𝑛𝑛 (6) The constant n was set to 1. For the experiment that produced the results shown in Figure 3, we set K1 = 1 (L/T; Equation 2) and K3 = 0.5 (L2 /T; Equation 6). We tested the sensitivity of model results to variations in K1 and K3 (Figure S1 in Supporting Information S1), but here focus discussion on the values above because they produced the most familiar landforms and thus, we assume, best represent processes at Gale crater. We emphasize that absolute erosion rates are unknown and the results we present are only sensitive to the relative erosion rates set by 𝐴𝐴 𝐾𝐾1 𝐾𝐾3 . For this reason, we present model runtimes in model steps rather than years. 3. Results Here, we present a landscape from each experiment near the 2000th model step (Figure 3). These steps were selected because the landscapes expose channel belts from different stratigraphic levels, and the topographic surface minimally intersects the bottom of the domain. None of the landscapes feature recognizable fluvial ridges, though fluvial ridges were generated in experiments featuring high 𝐴𝐴 𝐾𝐾1 𝐾𝐾3 presented in Figure S1 in Support- ing Information S1, which we will not discuss further. To identify benches and noses, we used slope maps set to highlight slopes of at least 11° (Figures 3d–3f), similar to the minimum slopes observed on Mars (Figure 1). We also used changes in contour spacing to identify shallower bench and nose edges. Each experiment produced recognizable benches and noses, as hypothesized (Figure 3). The locations where these landforms developed was sensitive to local channel-belt curvature and the aspect of maximum erosion, θm. No experiment particularly favored the development of either benches or noses. Channel-belt reaches were oriented relative to θm such that both landforms were produced in each experiment. Benches formed where channel-belt segments were oriented close to perpendicular to θm, but benches also curved away from this orientation, reflect- ing belt geometry (Figure 3). Segments oriented into θm were associated with noses, which are reminiscent of fluvial ridges with eroded tips (Figure 3). There were no examples of noses oriented toward ¬θm, though some noses transition into benches, again reflecting channel-belt curvature, or the curvature of stacked channel belts as is the case in the example shown in experiment 3 (Figure 3c). Several nose flanks had an asymmetrical drop in topography on either margin, with only one flank meeting the 11° threshold (Figures 3d and 3e). Experiment 3 has a well-formed nose with both flanks meeting this cutoff (Figure 3f). The relief associated with benches and noses is a function of their location relative to other sandstones and θm. The largest benches in these experiments are not necessarily formed from the highest-Ω exposures (e.g., Figure 3). Instead, the largest benches are generated at the first major Ω peak (Ω ≥ 0.3) in the direction of ¬θm for several km. For example, the largest Ω peak in experiment 1 transect A-A′ (Ω = 0.6; Figures 3g and 3h) forms a m-scale bench superimposed on a larger bench formed ∼2 km toward θm from a smaller Ω (Ω = 0.5). Essentially, the first Ω peak in a series of Ω peaks forms a protective shadow that decreases the total erosion for km behind the first bench. This can also be seen in Figures 3a–3c, where many exposed sandstones are not associated with significant topography visible in the 5 m contours. This sheltering is the product of slopes oriented toward ¬θm being modified primarily by diffusive processes (Equation 1), and is the primary factor distinguishing this model 19448007, 2023, 15, Downloaded from https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2023GL103618 by CAPES, Wiley Online Library on [29/10/2023]. See the Terms and Conditions (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/terms-and-conditions) on Wiley Online Library for rules of use; OA articles are governed by the applicable Creative Commons License
  • 6. Geophysical Research Letters CARDENAS AND STACEY 10.1029/2023GL103618 6 of 11 Figure 3. Hillshade maps of synthetic landscapes with 5- and 20-m contours. θm values are shown. Hillshade illumination is from the east. Colorized topography is draped on the hillshade, and overlain with red and yellow values showing Ω. A bench and nose are pointed to in each experiment. Light blue arrows point to high- Ω locations not associated with steep topography. (a) Experiment 1, model step 1964. (b) Experiment 2, model step 1996. (c) Experiment 3, model step 2001. A transition between a bench and a nose is marked. (d) Slope map of panel a showing slopes ≥11°, near the minimum slope defining bench and nose margin slopes on Mars. Benches show up well, but the labeled nose has only its eastern flank shown. (e) Slope map of panel (b). Similarly, benches are well represented, but only the southern flank of the nose is steep enough to be shown. (f) Slope map of panel (c). Here, the bench, bench-nose transition, and both nose flanks show up well. Both nose flanks are very closely oriented toward θm. (g) Topography (black line) and Ω (red line) along the profile A-A′ in panel (a). Large arrows point to benches and noses with 10 s of m of relief. Small arrows point to benches and noses with m of relief. (h) Topography (black line) and Ω (red line) along the profile B-B′ in panel (a). 19448007, 2023, 15, Downloaded from https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2023GL103618 by CAPES, Wiley Online Library on [29/10/2023]. See the Terms and Conditions (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/terms-and-conditions) on Wiley Online Library for rules of use; OA articles are governed by the applicable Creative Commons License
  • 7. Geophysical Research Letters CARDENAS AND STACEY 10.1029/2023GL103618 7 of 11 of bench formation from models of fluvial-ridge formation (Cardenas et al., 2022b; Hayden Lamb, 2020). Noses can show a similar sheltering effect, slowing the eolian erosion of deposits behind a narrow high-Ω loca- tion in the direction ¬θm, even forming at locations where this does not match channel-belt orientation (Figure 3). This further distinguishes noses generated here from fluvial ridges, which form specifically from the highest-Ω deposits (Cardenas et al., 2022b). Though most topography in the results can be explained by the outcrop at the same timestep or this shadowing effect, there may also be lingering responses to topography generated by fully eroded rock. The three landscapes show similar general responses to their respective θm values, despite their different relation- ships to mean channel-belt orientation. In each landscape, the distribution of aspects is bimodal, oriented toward ¬θm ± 90° (Figure 4). However, the aspects of slopes ≥11°, which define belt and nose edges, are in contrast oriented toward θm ± 90° (Figure 4). This represents bench edges mostly oriented toward θm with significant mapview curvature, and nose flanks oriented perpendicular to θm. Experiment three has a relative abundance of north-facing steep slopes (Figure 4c). Ultimately, the erosion of slopes with aspects near θm actually leads to the preservation of these slope aspects, as they cannot be diffusively filled. As lithology boundaries, and thus steep slopes, do not dominate the landscape, the slopes oriented toward θm ± 90° are underrepresented as a whole and overrepresented among steep slopes (Figure 4). 4. Discussion The synthetic erosional landscapes we generated here have similarities to the exposures of alluvial strata in the Glasgow and Mercou members of the Carolyn Shoemaker formation in Gale crater (Figure 1). Most impor- tantly, our synthetic landscapes feature benches and noses, rather than fluvial ridges, supporting our hypothesis (Figure 3). As was interpreted at the Glasgow member (Cardenas et al., 2022a), bench curvature can approx- imately follow the curvature of sandstone bodies for 10–100 s of m (Figure 3). At the landscape scale, the bimodal distribution of slope aspects is similar to the distribution of scarp orientations measured at Gale and Jezero (Williams et al., 2020, their Figure 3). Though not as clearly bimodal as our synthetic landscapes, scarp orientations at Gale crater, Jezero crater, and the Jezero delta do feature two dominant opposing quadrants, a third more populated quadrant, and a final least populated quadrant, similar to our results (Figure 4). The Jezero floor does not feature this pattern (Williams et al., 2020, their Figure 3c), and may not be sedimentary in origin (Farley et al., 2022). Differences between our synthetic landscapes and the Carolyn Shoemaker formation outcrops exist as well. The primary difference is in scale. The largest benches we produced are 10 s of m high (Figure 3), comparable to the entire height of the 5–6 benches at the Glasgow member outcrop (Figure 1a). This is likely related to the scale of the original stratigraphic volume and the thickness of channel belts. Sandstone bodies at the Glasgow member were 1.3 m thick at their thickest exposure, and benches were 10 s of m wide (Cardenas et al., 2022a, their Figure 9). Similarly, Mont Mercou and the adjacent nose are under 100 m in length, whereas many noses generated in these experiments extend 100 s of m (Figure 3). The seismic volume, on the other hand, has a vertical resolution of 4 m, thicker than the thickest sandstone measured at the benches and more than half the height of the Mont Mercou outcrop (Figure 1). Further, the lateral resolution of the seismic volume is 20 m, and thus a few pixels at best may represent bench width at the Carolyn Shoemaker formation exposures. The channel belts that are imaged in the seismic survey are wide enough and thick enough to exceed this resolution limit, generating larger land- forms that nonetheless relate to their underlying stratigraphy in the same ways. Despite this scale difference, our model produces similar landscape bench and nose slopes to those observed at the Carolyn Shoemaker formation (e.g., 11°; Figure 1; Cardenas et al., 2022a). This suggests our mix of eolian and diffusive processes, represented by our selected 𝐴𝐴 𝐾𝐾1 𝐾𝐾3 , is reasonably representative of Gale crater. Though this landscape-evolution model is primarily geometric and we did not explicitly model a wind direction, we interpret θm to represent a particular unimodal wind regime that promotes erosion of θm-facing slopes. Winds in craters are steered in preferential directions by crater topography (Day Dorn, 2019; Dromart et al., 2021), and are capable of driving significant erosion of crater-filling stratigraphy (Day et al., 2016; Sullivan et al., 2022). Erosion of crater-filling strata tends to initiate along the inner rim and extend over time toward the center of the crater, leading to channelized and presumably unimodal winds (Day et al., 2016). This topographic steering of eroding winds and the establishment of a preferential direction for scarp retreat may be the reason why fluvial 19448007, 2023, 15, Downloaded from https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2023GL103618 by CAPES, Wiley Online Library on [29/10/2023]. 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  • 8. Geophysical Research Letters CARDENAS AND STACEY 10.1029/2023GL103618 8 of 11 ridges are not forming as the Carolyn Shoemaker formation erodes, despite containing the prerequisite alluvial stratigraphy (Caravaca et al., 2022, Cardenas et al., 2022a; Fedo et al., 2022). Examples of craters that do contain fluvial ridges have fills that have been heavily exhumed already (Day et al., 2019; Goudge et al., 2018; Jerolmack et al., 2004), possibly diminishing the steering of winds between crater walls and less-eroded crater mounds. Figure 4. Rose diagrams showing slope aspects for the entire landscape (left) and the bench and nose-forming slopes (≥11°, right). Red arrows show the fastest-eroding aspects for each experiment. (a) Results from experiment 1. (b) Results from experiment 2. (c) Results from experiment 3. 19448007, 2023, 15, Downloaded from https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2023GL103618 by CAPES, Wiley Online Library on [29/10/2023]. See the Terms and Conditions (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/terms-and-conditions) on Wiley Online Library for rules of use; OA articles are governed by the applicable Creative Commons License
  • 9. Geophysical Research Letters CARDENAS AND STACEY 10.1029/2023GL103618 9 of 11 Indeed, most fluvial ridges on Mars are not located in craters, and are instead found in the intra-crater plains (Dickson et al., 2020) or at the margin of the martian topographic dichotomy (Burr et al., 2009; Cardenas Lamb, 2022; Davis et al., 2019). Similarly, a version of the erosion model applied here but with no aspect control on erosion rates produced fluvial ridges (Cardenas et al., 2022b). Our synthetic landscapes suggest that alluvial stratigraphy might be heretofore unrecognized in crater fill, exposed as topographic benches and noses that are far more subtle than fluvial ridges (Burr et al., 2009; Williams et al., 2013b). It is noted that benches in particular may be qualitatively, and perhaps even quantitatively, similar to landforms that are associated with the erosion of homogeneous underlying strata (Montgomery et al., 2012; Stack et al., 2022). This highlights some of the challenges of using remote-sensing data to interpret depositional settings (as recently discussed in Fedo et al., 2022). However, our results also provide some paths forward. For instance, while topographic benches and slopes observed at HiRISE scale appear similar to periodic bedrock ridges (Stack et al., 2022), the presence of both benches and noses may be uniquely related to the erosion of alluvial stratigraphy, or deposits from another channelized sedimentary system. Further, exhumed coarse-grain rocks including sandstones tend to appear bright in nighttime thermal images due to their high thermal inertia (e.g., Burr et al., 2010), and our experiments suggest these hard lithologies should outcrop at benches and noses. Because our example features are 10–100 s of m in scale and thus detectable with Mars remote sensing datasets, this may assist with future investigations of the stratigraphy of crater-fill, as well as with laterally tracing the Carolyn Shoemaker formation across Mount Sharp using HiRISE images and stereo topography. 5. Conclusions Here, we modeled the Mars-like erosion of alluvial strata imaged in an analog 3D seismic reflectance volume. We set local landscape-lowering rates to be a function of lithology, slope, and slope aspect, which set a preferen- tial direction of scarp retreat. We generated synthetic erosional landscapes that formed topographic benches and noses, rather than fluvial ridges, where channel belts were exhumed. The erosional patterns are similar to those observed by the Curiosity rover at the alluvial deposits of the Carolyn Shoemaker formation in Gale crater, where there is a record of crater topography steering winds. Thus, we predict that alluvial strata may be located in other crater fill on Mars, exposed as subtle benches and noses rather than fluvial ridges. Data Availability Statement The Python scripts used to run the model, the numpy array containing the seismic volume, and all results from our experiments are available on Penn State's ScholarSphere repository (Cardenas, 2023). The experiments labeled 1–3 here refer to experiments 7–9 in the complete data set. References Armstrong, C., Mohrig, D., Hess, T., George, T., Straub, K. M. (2014). Influence of growth faults on coastal fluvial systems: Examples from the late Miocene to Recent Mississippi River Delta. Sedimentary Geology, 301, 120–132. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sedgeo.2013.06.010 Barnhart, K. R., Hutton, E. W. H., Tucker, G. E., Gasparini, N. M., Istanbulluoglu, E., Hobley, D. E. J., et al. (2020). Short communication: Land- lab v2.0: A software package for Earth surface dynamics. Earth Surface Dynamics, 8(2), 379–397. https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-8-379-2020 Burr, D. M., Enga, M.-T., Williams, R. M. E., Zimbelman, J. R., Howard, A. D., Brennand, T. A. (2009). Pervasive aqueous paleoflow features in the Aeolis/Zephyria Plana region, Mars. Icarus, 200(1), 52–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2008.10.014 Burr, D. M., Williams, R. M. E., Wendell, K. D., Chojnacki, M., Emery, J. P. (2010). Inverted fluvial features in the Aeolis/Zephyria Plana region, Mars: Formation mechanism and initial paleodischarge estimates. Journal of Geophysical Research, 115(E7), E07011. https://doi. org/10.1029/2009JE003496 Caravaca, G., Mangold, N., Dehouck, E., Schieber, J., Zaugg, L., Bryk, A. B., et al. (2022). From Lake to river: Documenting an environmental transition across the Jura/Knockfarril Hill members boundary in the Glen Torridon region of Gale crater (Mars). Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 127(9), e2021JE007093. https://doi.org/10.1029/2021JE007093 Cardenas, B. T. (2023). Model and data for “Landforms associated with the aspect-controlled exhumation of crater-filling alluvial strata on Mars” [Dataset]. Penn State ScholarSphere. https://doi.org/10.26207/e38m-vq91 Cardenas, B. T., Grotzinger, J. P., Lamb, M. P., Lewis, K. W., Fedo, C. M., Bryk, A. B., et al. (2022). Barform deposits of the Carolyn Shoemaker formation, Gale crater, Mars. Journal of Sedimentary Research, 92(12), 1071–1092. https://doi.org/10.2110/jsr.2022.032 Cardenas, B. T., Lamb, M. P. (2022). Paleogeographic reconstructions of an ocean margin on Mars based on deltaic sedimentology at Aeolis Dorsa. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 127(10), e2022JE007390. https://doi.org/10.1029/2022JE007390 Cardenas, B. T., Lamb, M. P., Grotzinger, J. P. (2022). Martian landscapes of fluvial ridges carved from ancient sedimentary basin fill. Nature Geoscience, 15(11), 871–877. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-01058-2 Cardenas, B. T., Lamb, M. P., Jobe, Z. R., Mohrig, D., Swartz, J. 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